Alligators and Gorillas
June 11, 2006

So, there's a whole silly reason that I call this blog Red Monkey, but of course, one of the reasons I wanted the red monkey, was because I do adore monkeys and gorillas both. So tonight, as I was watching Growing Up Gorilla on the Discovery Channel, I remembered my trip to the Brookfield Zoo and the pictures I got of a new gorilla mommy.

Mama Gorilla and baby
Mama Gorilla and baby

The best part of the show was watching four little guys playing together. The one male of the group, second to youngest of them all, decided he was a silverback already. Posturing and pulling all the others to the ground, even the one several, several months older and much bigger. Once he'd decided he'd dominated them, he went to the electric fence that separated them from the toddler gorilla-kids, he kept trying to get through the fence to prove himself king of the big kids too!

Ahh, gotta love the politics of the playground. I can remember when I wished there was an electric fence to keep the bullies away from the younger kids, too. In fact, there are times on the internet when I still wish the same thing, what with people not conversing in comments left on other blogs, but instead just spitting insults and venom. And no, I'm not talking about here ... somehow, at least up to this point, I've managed to avoid any trolls or venemous spitting comments, but I've witnessed it on the blogs of many other people. I never do understand it ... it always makes me think of junior high.

In fact, back, waaaaay back when I was in junior high and the abacus had only recently been tossed in favour of some funky hand held device that weighed about 6 pounds and could add, subtract, multiply AND divide!!! (all on one single 9 volt per every 100 calculations) ... anyhow, back in the day, the rage was Lacoste Izod shirts. These were the little three-button shirts with a collar. Sometimes called a polo. Sometimes called a golf shirt. Well, there were Izods back then and then there were just plain shirts. The Izod had the little alligator and was thus considered cool. The reason why is lost in the mysteries of time and the brains of the then pre-adolescents. Everyone wanted that stupid alligator on their shirt.

I just thought those shirts in general were the height of cool. Obviously, they were dress-up shirts because they had a COLLAR. And, still, they were t-shirts. Casual and dress-up all in one package!!! I loved them.

I really didn't care if they were plain, had the alligator or the Sears Le Tigre tiger on them. Whatever.

However, most of my classmates were terribly rabid about the Izod alligator. Oh, you weren't made fun of for wearing a plain 3-button. But you certainly weren't "in" if you did that.

Of course, as soon as I hit seventh grade and junior high, my mother decides this is the perfect time to pick up sewing. And she proceeded to infinitely increase my cool factor by making most of my clothes. It's not that she was bad at sewing, but her taste in materials left much to be desired. At any rate, in my perpetual attempt to make fun of my classmates for being slaves to stupid things, I found a nifty -- and quite large -- alligator applique whilst whiling away the interminable hours at the fabric store. Mom was looking for the cheapest cloth and the best cloth: a search continually doomed to failure, so she usually chose cheap. (I'm surprised we didn't have shirts made out of that funky white crap that I can't remember the name of ... edging? no ... whatever.)

I bounded over to my mother with this freaking three inch alligator and announced that I wanted THAT on one of my shirts. My mother looked at me sadly. Obviously I was a challenged child in terms of spatial relations and she said tenderly, "Honey, no one is ever going to think that's an Izod alligator."

I rolled my eyes in the fashion of teens and pre-teens everywhere. "I KNOW, Mom, that's the POINT."

She reluctantly purchased my joke alligator and dutifully sewed it on one of the shirts.

All I heard that day at school was "That's not a real Izod you know."

To which my reply was a big grin and a delighted, "I know ... that's the point."

There were a LOT of confused kids in my school the first few times I wore the shirt.

But, the saddest thing to me was that while I got a lot of confusion over that shirt, I never did get teased. On the other hand, "Donna" wasn't so lucky. She couldn't afford an Izod. Her mom got her the next best thing, at least in Mom-Think. Donna got a Le Tigre shirt instead. She spent an evening getting the tiger off that shirt and then, skipped athletics one morning and took an alligator off some unsuspecting girl's Izod. She tried to glue it onto her shirt.

Watching the gorilla kids on the tv show tonight reminded me very much of that scene in the girl's locker room in the 80s. A pack of girls, converging on Donna. Yelling at her. Screaming, "That's not an Izod, you faker!" And other, less nice, things. Donna, frightened, insisting that it was. Truly, it was an Izod. She tried to divert attention to me, reminding the girls I had a HUGE alligator. They were tearing at Donna's shirt now, trying to get to the tag on the inside back. Donna was squriming, terrified, trying to get away.

All she'd wanted was to fit in.

All I'd wanted was to let the other kids know you didn't have to fit in.

I got ignored.

Donna got her shirt literally ripped off. And the tag held up triumphantly. Le Tigre.

The coach had to find her a shirt from the lost and found. Luckily, there were some just back from the laundry.

In the show tonight, the slightly bigger toddler gorillas were picking on the littlest one. Something that wouldn't really happen in the wild, according to the researchers, because the older adolescents and the adults wouldn't stand for it. But in this habitat, they get groups of babies, not the adults. So the humans sometimes have to just let the "kids" sort it out for themselves ... sometimes they have to step in.

What is it in us, that makes us go after the weak or those we perceive to be weak? Is it a throw back to some more survivalist instincts in which only the strongest survived and if you killed off the weak, it was more food and survival for you?

I hear some folks, adults, talk about this phenomenon with disgust for the weak. I've heard others talk about with hurt and confusion. Others with a determination to fix it all.

For me, it was in junior high that I realized that this behaviour the adults called "junior high" was prevalent everywhere. I saw adults being just that petty as to be asinine over what brand of clothes someone wore. What neighborhood they "chose" to live in.

And all I could think ... all I can think ... is our need to not be alone really that strong? That this is one of the largest worries in so many people's lives in the western world? (I presume it's the world over, but I don't know other cultures well enough to presume to speak for them.)

Schoolyard bullies. Proving strength like the young gorillas. Proving they're cool like Cordelia in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Proving we're still essentially animals despite our insistence that we're civilised.

Wow. This post took some turns I didn't expect.

Posted by Red Monkey at June 11, 2006 7:51 PM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | People Say I Have ADHD, But I Think - Hey Look, A Chicken | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

As someone who grew up in the same era, I can totally relate to this! The Izods, the Members Only jackets, the Ralph Lauren Polo shirts.

Argh. Sometimes, it's painful to remember the past. Other times, it's just funny :D

Thanks for making me laugh. I needed it.

June 11, 2006 8:44 PM


Beth said:

I went through the same when I entered Junior High. We just had to shop at The Limited. Call me spoiled but I did get my clothes from there-not because of the name, but because they happened to fit me better. I couldn't help it. Friends were jealous but there was nothing I could do. One will always have a person/persons in his or her life who want to take control and belittle you as often as possible. I never let this happen. I hold my head high-even during rough times and say, "This is my life. I'm living it the best way I know how."

June 12, 2006 7:33 AM


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